Selina Lennox is a Bright Young Thing. Her life is a whirl of parties and drinking, pursued by the press and staying just the right side of scandal. Lawrence Weston is a penniless painter who stumbles into Selina’s orbit one night and can never let her go.
Spanning two decades and a seismic shift in British history as World War II approaches, this is an epic novel of passion, heartache and loss.
The Glittering Hour is an intriguing tale, set between the First and Second World Wars, and tells the story of socialite Selina Lennox who is a member of a group of young people dubbed by the press as the Bright Young Things. The Bright Young Things or Bright Young People were a real group of young aristocrats and socialites in 1920s London who threw elaborate fancy dress parties, went on treasure hunts, drank heavily and used drugs. While Selina and her friends are fictional, they pursue the same activities and blaze a bright trail across a city still reeling from the atrocities of the First World War.
While participating in a treasure hunt, Selina is abandoned by her friends when she tries to help an injured cat and she meets Lawrence Weston, a penniless young artist, whom she finds intriguing. Selina and Lawrence don’t exactly mix in the same circles but Selina is growing weary of her shallow lifestyle and realises she could find real happiness with Lawrence if she was only brave enough to pursue it. However, Selina is bound by convention and knows her family are expecting her to make a good match, so when tragedy strikes, Selina accepts a proposal from a man she knows she will never love.
A decade later, Selina’s young daughter, Alice, is sent to live with her maternal grandparents while her parents are on a business trip to Burma. Almost from the start, Alice is treated as a nuisance and left in the hands of an uncaring governess but there is a spark of light in her existence when her mother’s letters send her on an unexpected treasure hunt which will slowly reveal the truth about her mother’s past.
While I enjoyed the dual narrative between Selina and Alice, there was no great mystery behind Alice’s paternity as there were too many clues provided along the way. Having said that, I’m not sure the author fully intended for the truth about Alice to be hidden from us as the story was not really about that. Unfortunately, the real twist in the story was easy to work out and I found the last few chapters dragged as a consequence.
The best thing about the book was Iona Grey’s ability to capture the atmosphere of the 1920s in all its dazzling glory. Selina and her friends dance their way through their debut season without a care in the world, however there is a dark shadow hanging over them in the shape of the First World War. The horror of the war has scarred the psyche of Selina’s generation deeply as countless husbands, fathers and brothers failed to return. The author is very adept at showing how Selina is haunted by the death of her brother even though she is determined to live life to the fullest for him. In the same way, there is a feeling of doom hanging over Selina and her set – they may be rich and beautiful but the Bright Young Things are on an ill-fated path.
In the 1930s timeline, the reader knows the world is about to plunge into another destructive war, however we don’t get that impression from the characters as Alice is so isolated from everything. There is the odd reference, such as Alice’s governess receiving socialist propaganda and travelling to London for meetings, but there are no whispered conversations amongst the adults about what is happening in Germany.
The Glittering Hour is a lovely written book but I just wish it had been a tad less predictable.